Best of our wild blogs: 30 Mar 12

Hantu Blog Celebrates 9 Years of Public Education
from Pulau Hantu

Dark, Not Dull – Blog Log: 28 Feb 2012
from Pulau Hantu

Find your passion with the rejuvenated Raffles Museum Toddycats!
from Toddycats!

Where is pigboy?!
from Otterman speaks

Random Gallery - Spotted Judy
from Butterflies of Singapore

Collared Kingfisher with Changeable Lizard brunch
from Bird Ecology Study Group

三月华语导游Madarin guide walk@SBWR,March(XXVIII)
from PurpleMangrove

Request for additional information about Punggol and Serangoon Reservoirs
from Water Quality in Singapore

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'No regrets' over Bukit Brown effort

But some things could have been done better, says Tan Chuan-Jin
Li Xueying & Grace Chua Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

THE man at the centre of the Bukit Brown engagement effort, Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, says he has no regrets about reaching out to interest groups on various policies, including on the controversial road slicing through the cemetery.

But the Minister of State for National Development acknowledged that there were things he could have done better, like in managing expectations on what the consultation process can achieve.

In his first interview since the authorities announced on March 19 changes to the road in response to feedback, Mr Tan noted that the eight-month-long engagement effort over Bukit Brown started with a mismatch in expectations.

'Everyone came in with their own expectations,' he said in an e-mail to The Straits Times.

The Government was engaging on how to build 'a better road with minimal impact' - not whether to do so - and how affected graves can be documented. But some interest groups thought they could work at undoing the road decision.

Thus, one takeaway is that 'there should be better appreciation of the expectations on all sides so that we can develop a dialogue that is constructive and which moves the issue forward'.

Another learning point, said Mr Tan, is that the Government needs to better communicate the constraints it faces and 'why we make certain decisions'. He had explained that one alternative option, the widening of Lornie Road, would affect the adjacent nature reserve and mean acquiring private property. But some still insisted on it, he added.

The Bukit Brown affair is likely to hold lessons for the Government, which has pledged to make public engagement a cornerstone of its policy-making. As Mr Tan noted: 'We would need to learn from our experiences and understand why the Bukit Brown engagement turned out the way it did.'

Just two days ago, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said engagement should start from the point of policy design and continue as policies are implemented. However, he had added, it should not lead to policy paralysis.

Mr Tan is known for his personal commitment to public engagement. He has led public discussions on policies such as the Rail Corridor on disused railway land, and foreign maid matters.

The latest is over the 89-year-old Bukit Brown cemetery, which the Government says must make way for a road now and housing in future. It made some concessions like building an eco-bridge.

But activists who hoped for a stay of the Government's hand accused the Ministry of National Development of 'lack of good faith'.

Though embattled, Mr Tan remains enthusiastic about engagement. This, despite sceptics wondering why he was spending so much time engaging groups that 'seemed to represent minority interests and pandering to their demands'.

Asked if he regretted embarking on the Bukit Brown exercise, he replied: 'I do not. I believe that we should endeavour to continue to try and do it better each time round.'

The Government remains committed to engaging stakeholders, so that together, they can come up with ideas 'to better serve the interests of the people'. Public engagement is almost an end in itself, as it spurs conversations that lead to 'greater collective understanding'.

But, he added, the Government 'is elected to do what is right for Singaporeans and for Singapore', taking into account immediate and long-term needs. 'When the time for decision comes, we will decide,' he said.

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Dead fish found in another river

Amanda Lee Today Online 30 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE - Hundreds of dead fish, measuring 5cm long each and similar to the ones found earlier, were washed up ashore yesterday along Sungei Tampines, making it the second incident to have occurred in the Pasir Ris estate in the past 10 days.

The latest episode sparked questions from residents, with most wanting to know the cause of the two incidents.

Contractors who cleared the fish told Today that the amount yesterday was less than that of the first incident. Last Tuesday, thousands of dead white fish were washed up along Sungei Api-Api, which flows through Pasir Ris estate and Pasir Ris Park.

Yesterday morning, dead fish consisting mainly of baby tamban - a type of saltwater fish - were discovered at the downstream section of Sungei Tampines, from Pasir Ris Drive 3 to the river mouth, said national water agency PUB.

While the stench of rotting fish lingered on at around 3pm yesterday as 12 contractors cleared bags of dead fish from Sungei Tampines, Pasir Ris residents were perturbed by the latest grisly find.

"It is an awful sight and smell," said Mr Muhammad Sarif, 27, who has been living in Pasir Ris estate for the past 15 years, and wanted to know why there are so many dead fish around lately.

Another resident, Ms Nur Liyana, 24, who has been living in the estate for 20 years, wondered whether the fish died of water pollution or other causes. "It would be good to know the reason behind it," she added.

The National Environment Agency (NEA) previously ruled out water contamination as the cause in the March 20 incident at Sungei Api-Api.

As this is the second incident, some residents are worried that they would affect the river ecosystem.

Mr Eric Lim, who has been living in the estate for 14 years and fishes regularly at Pasir Ris River, said that he has seen net casters who "fish at the beach and throwing anchovies and tambans back into the water".

"Since this is the second time that this has happened, the authorities should pay more attention to the net casters," he felt.

In a joint statement yesterday evening, the PUB assured the public that yesterday's incident had no impact on drinking water quality. The NEA is also investigating the cause of the incident.

Dead fish found in Tampines river
Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

MORE than a thousand dead fish were found in a downstream stretch of Sungei Tampines yesterday.

They were a type of saltwater fish known as baby tamban.

When The Straits Times reached the site at about 5.30pm, contractors from national water agency PUB had finished clearing the fish.

They had been packed into dozens of black garbage bags and put in the back of a truck.

A fishy smell lingered in the air around the river.

The affected area stretched from Pasir Ris Drive 3 to the river mouth.

A similar incident occurred last Tuesday at Pasir Ris beach and along Sungei Api Api, which is separated from Sungei Tampines by Pasir Ris Park.

The thousands of dead fish washed ashore then were of two species, both belonging to the sardine family.

Nearly all were removed by last Wednesday night, and no more were found after that.

A spokesman for the PUB said the quality of drinking water will not be affected.

The Straits Times spoke to 20 residents who live in HDB flats overlooking the river. All were unaware of the incident.

A spokesman for the National Environment Agency said it is investigating the cause of yesterday's incident.

Singapore has had other instances of mass fish deaths. In December 2009, a plankton bloom killed 400,000 fish in farms off Pasir Ris and Pulau Ubin.


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Owners of illegal jetties given reprieve

Floating platforms at Seletar need not be removed if they get engineers to certify safety
Jose Hong Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

BOAT and jetty owners at Seletar, who were told by the authorities to remove the illegal structures they had built there over the years, have been given a reprieve of sorts.

There are at least three jetties in the area which were illegally built. Their owners were told earlier this month that they had to be removed.

At a meeting the authorities held on Wednesday, the craft owners agreed to work with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) on these floating platforms, including getting professional engineer certification.

The Singapore Land Authority, in a joint statement with the Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore after Wednesday's meeting

It is understood that the jetties need not be removed if engineers can certify that they are safe.

While plans for the area are being finalised, the jetties can still operate, so long as no new ones are built or existing ones extended.

Currently, fishing equipment is also being stored on illegal structures that float in the sea.

Although these structures have to be dismantled, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) is prepared to provide more space on the shore to store the equipment, if the jetty owners apply for it.

'Going forward, SLA is prepared to enlarge the approved land area to accommodate the craft owners' needs,' the SLA said in a joint statement with MPA after the meeting.

The area in question is off the eastern corner of the Lower Seletar Reservoir Dam where several wooden jetties and structures, built over the years, extend from the mangroves into the sea.

The Straits Times reported earlier this week that the authorities had told the jetty owners that the structures were illegal and had to be removed as they pose a safety hazard.

They also stressed that individuals cannot simply lay claim to state land for their private use.

In the joint statement, the SLA and MPA said that while the craft owners can continue to engage in their activities, they should not use state property illegally, and the authorities will work closely with them to resolve their issues.

The statement also explained that since 1993, part of the Seletar coastal area had been approved as mooring bases for sea craft.

The SLA had originally issued three temporary occupation licences (TOL) to the representatives of the craft owners for the use of state land, including the storage of fishing equipment within the TOL boundary. However, approval was not given for the makeshift jetties and structures outside the TOL boundary, which 'lack professional certification and pose safety hazards'.

Earlier this week before Wednesday's meeting, one of the jetty owners said he was aware that the authorities wanted the structures to be certified safe by a professional engineer.

But, he added, he could not afford to hire a professional engineer to certify the structure, or carry through any recommendations.

None of the jetty owners could be reached for comment yesterday.

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Smuggler hid 24 birds under trousers

Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

A MALAYSIAN odd-job worker hid 24 hatchlings in a pouch hanging from his waist in a bid to smuggle the birds into Singapore.

But seven of the 24 oriental white-eye birds were found dead when he was pulled up for a check upon arrival from Batam.

Yesterday, Lim Chia Ming, 55, was jailed for two weeks for bringing in the birds - called mata puteh in Malay - without a licence from the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA).

He was also fined $4,000 for causing unnecessary suffering to the hatchlings by confining them in spaces too small and restrictive inside the pouch. He had pleaded guilty to both charges.

A district court heard that Lim had left Singapore for Batam last Friday to visit his girlfriend.

While there, he visited a bird shop and told its owner of his smuggling plan. The Indonesian owner selected the two dozen hatchlings and Lim took them to his girlfriend's house in a cage that he borrowed from the shop.

Its owner also gave him 24 boxes, which had previously contained bottles of massage oil for babies, that had been perforated.

The next day, the Indonesian went to the house of Lim's girlfriend at 7am to help pack the birds into the boxes.

These were placed in a cloth pouch that Lim wore under his trousers. His ferry docked at the Singapore Cruise Centre at about 9.30am.

He was pulled up for a routine check by officers from the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority, and his game was up.

The court heard that each box measured just 7.5cm by 2.5cm by 2.5cm and seven of the birds died during the journey.

AVA currently does not allow the import of birds from avian influenza-affected countries such as Indonesia.

The oriental white-eye is a popular songbird in Singapore and a hatchling can fetch $25. It is not known how much Lim paid for each hatchling in Batam but bird lovers said it could be as little as $2.

He could have been fined up to $10,000 and jailed for up to a year on each charge.


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Schools going beyond Earth Hour

Channel NewsAsia 29 Mar 12;

Singapore will be observing Earth Hour for the fourth time on Saturday, March 31st but students from 18 months to 18 years, are doing their bid for the environment beyond just 60 minutes.

Since Earth Hour was first observed in Singapore in 2009, the San Lorenzo Montessori school has made it a point to switch off school lights for an hour in two separate sessions.

Though just toddlers, the children are taught the significance of Earth Hour and environmental conservation before the lights go off on Friday.

"We teach the kids about topics like the solar system as part of our curriculum. So with Earth Hour, we teach them its significance and how they can play their part," said Ms Audrey Cho, principal of the Montessori.

The school believes that the effort not only gels smoothly with the school's curriculum, which puts a focus on environmental education, but also serves as a momentum for change.

"If you teach the kids only ABC, you'll miss lots of opportunities. According to studies, 80% of personality traits are formed from 0 to 6 years of age. It's the perfect stage to introduce environmental values" said Ms Cho.

"As for Earth Hour, I've seen the kids getting excited. Their enthusiasm can rub off onto their parents and influence their parents to participate in such activities," she added.

Change led by the young is most apparent in Yangzheng Primary School, where the school has been switching off the lights and fans every month for 10 minutes since last year.

The initiative was the result of the Student Suggestion Scheme, revealed teacher Ms Celestia Chew.

"The students are so enthusiastic that they will always count down to Earth Hour. They are so eager that they will remind me to switch off the lights" said Ms Chew who's also known as the 'Green' teacher for her role as the school's environmental coordinator.

Going beyond the school walls, the teenaged student leaders of Nan Hua High have joined hands with the West Coast Grassroots Organizations (GROs) to organise an Earth Hour event for residents in Clementi.

"The residents will be treated with performances by the students from choir, dance and other co-curricular activities (CCAs). During the lights off, we will conduct a night walk and everyone will make a formation of 60+ thereafter," said Mr Chia Yew Loon, Head of Community Relations Department.

Nan Hua High is expecting 1000 residents to turn up to the event, and have been making preparations since last February.

"By allowing them to organize activities, they'll gain experience and learn from there," said Mr Chia.

At Yishun Junior College (YJC), a group of student leaders known as Environmental Ambassadors take the initiative to lead the institution in environmental practices with regular assembly talks centering on Earth Hour and gathering pledges to preserve the environment.

Besides these one-off initiatives, the Environmental Ambassadors also make sure they walk the talk, by organizing Project RUSCO, a collaboration with Alpha Biofuel that started in 2010 to recycle used cooking oil.

In 2011, Project RUSCO surpassed expectations by collecting an estimated 30kg of oil, with half that amount being converted into biodiesel to fuel green vehicles.

The students also conduct environmental talks in schools around the region while also taking the conservation message to residents and hawkers.

"We are leaving it up to the students, so there's more student ownership" said Mr Chua Chee Siang of YJC's Science department.

"We don't want them to just participate, but to take the lead to change the environment and influence the society".

With young Singaporeans leading environmental initiatives, it appears that the message of Earth Hour can burn bright even after 60 minutes in the dark.


Earth Hour effort one-night only?
Rachel Kelly Channel NewsAsia 30 Mar 12;

SINGAPORE: Millions of people across the world are expected to switch off their lights for this year's Earth Hour on Saturday, but are they in it for the long run, or just for the night?

It is estimated lighting accounts for roughly 19 per cent of energy used globally, and some industry players say consumers and companies can bring that number down substantially by using energy efficient lighting solutions.

At this year's Earth Hour in Singapore, some 300 corporate organisations have committed to switching off to save energy.

That is a 50 per cent increase from last year.

The World Wildlife Fund said it has been approached by companies which are keen to do more.

WWF Singapore CEO Elaine Tan said: "For WWF Singapore, we have been doing Earth Hour for last four years.

"I think corporate partnership and participation has been increasing in terms of the involvement in terms of their response.

"I think, for quite a number of the companies, first and foremost, they want to be able to educate the employees, so WWF comes in to partner them and come up with a green office manual to see as a staff, how you can come in and engage in energy saving measures or steps."

Other than switching off for Earth Hour, it appears more companies worldwide are switching to more sustainable forms of lighting solution on a permanent basis.

Lighting provider Philips said sales of "green lighting" now account for 60 per cent of turnover.

Asia Commercial Lighting Royal Philips senior vice-president and general manager Olivier Piccolin said: "For sure, yes, we are targeting to see towards 100 per cent of our lighting sales to be energy efficient.

"We see also, the sales of LED increasing in a spectacular way -- and we see by 2015 about 45 to 50 per cent of the market will be LED (globally)."

For Singapore-listed property developer CapitaLand, other than taking part in this year's Earth Hour, it is thinking long term and has aggressive targets for energy reduction in its buildings.

CapitaLand said it goes beyond Earth Hour with year-round initiatives such as "wear less days", requiring staff in warm-climate countries to dress light, so the company can turn up the air-conditioning and cut energy usage.

CapitaLand Green Committee chairman Francis Wong Hooe Wai said: "We set group targets for energy and water saving whereby in 2015, we should have saved 15 per cent annually from the 2008 level.

"So then this... cascades down to each property, so each property will have its own water and energy saving target."

CapitaLand added that since 2007, all its new and retrofitted projects have to be green-rated.

- CNA/wk

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Nature deficit disorder 'damaging Britain's children'

Richard Black BBC News 29 Mar 12;

UK children are losing contact with nature at a "dramatic" rate, and their health and education are suffering, a National Trust report says.

Traffic, the lure of video screens and parental anxieties are conspiring to keep children indoors, it says.

Evidence suggests the problem is worse in the UK than other parts of Europe, and may help explain poor UK rankings in childhood satisfaction surveys.

The trust is launching a consultation on tackling "nature deficit disorder".

"This is about changing the way children grow up and see the world," said Stephen Moss, the author, naturalist and former BBC Springwatch producer who wrote the Natural Childhood report for the National Trust.

"The natural world doesn't come with an instruction leaflet, so it teaches you to use your creative imagination.

"When you build a den with your mates when you're nine years old, you learn teamwork - you disagree with each other, you have arguments, you resolve them, you work together again - it's like a team-building course, only you did it when you were nine."

The trust argues, as have other bodies in previous years, that the growing dissociation of children from the natural world and internment in the "cotton wool culture" of indoor parental guidance impairs their capacity to learn through experience.

It cites evidence showing that:

children learn more and behave better when lessons are conducted outdoors
symptoms of children diagnosed with ADHD improve when they are exposed to nature
children say their happiness depends more on having things to do outdoors more than owning technology.

Yet British parents feel more pressure to provide gadgets for their children than in other European countries.

Anger over traffic

The phrase nature deficit disorder was coined in 2005 by author Richard Louv, who argued that the human cost of "alienation from nature" was measured in "diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties and higher rates of physical and emotional illnesses".

In the UK as in many other countries, rates of obesity, self-harm and mental health disorders diagnosed in children have climbed significantly since the 1970s.

But nature deficit disorder is not generally regarded as a medical condition.

"There's undoubtedly a phenomenon that's not good for health, which is about not giving access to outdoors or green space, safe risk-taking and so on," said David Pencheon, a medical doctor who now heads the National Health Service's sustainable development unit.

"But I wouldn't say we've identified a medical condition.

"In fact we don't want to 'medicalise' it, we should see it as part of everyday life - if you medicalise it, people say 'you'd better go to your doctor and take a pill'."

But despite growing recognition of nature deficit disorder, policies aiming to tackle it appear thin on the ground.

Mr Moss cites statistics showing that the area where children are allowed to range unsupervised around their homes has shrunk by 90% since the 1970s.

Whereas some reasons behind the parental "cotton wool culture" are not based in logic - most sexual molestation occurs in the home, for example, not in parks - the one "genuine massive danger" is traffic.

"I think the first step for any child is playing outdoors in the street; and in the 40 years since I grew up, traffic has increased hugely, and that's the main reason why none of us let our kids out on their own," Mr Moss told BBC News.

"The only solution would be to have pedestrian priority on every residential street in Britain; when you are driving along the street, if there are children playing, they have priority."

The report advocates having teachers take children for lessons outdoors when possible, with urban schools using parks.

It also says that authorities who cite "health and safety" as a reason for stopping children playing conkers or climbing trees should be aware that successive Health and Safety Executive heads have advocated a measure of risk-taking in children's lives.
Health warning

The changes in childhood in previous decades are now filtering through into adulthood, where levels of obesity are also rising.

Dr Pencheon observed that although doctors are beginning to prescribe exercise instead of drugs where it is indicated, much more could be done from a policy perspective.

"One of the problems here is that the NHS is not incentivised financially to do public health," he said.

"The healthcare system is run on a rescue basis - people come to us when they're ill, we patch them up and try to get them going again - that's not the culture of a system designed to keep people healthy."

The National Trust is now beginning a two-month consultation aimed at gathering views and examples of good and bad practice from the public and specialists.

These will eventually be turned into a set of policy recommendations.

"As a nation, we need to do everything we can to make it easy and safe for our children to get outdoors," said National Trust director-general Fiona Reynolds.

"We want to move the debate on and encourage people and organisations to think about how we take practical steps to reconnect children with the natural world and inspire them to get outdoors."

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Earthquake jolts Mersing

New Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

KUALA LUMPUR: An earthquake measuring 3.2 on the Richter scale jolted Mersing, Johor, at 9.43pm yesterday. A Malaysia Meteorological Department spokesman said it was the first time a tremor was recorded in Mersing, but it was so weak that nobody felt it.

"The epicentre was located 16km east of Mersing at sea. We called the authorities, including the police, and they confirmed that there was no property damage or loss of lives." Many earthquakes recorded in Malaysia happened near Sabah and they were categorised as weak tremors.

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Malaysia: Haze may return next month

New Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

DRY SEASON MEASURES: Open burning offenders to be issued summonses

THE haze is expected to appear early next month with the onset of a dry and humid period lasting until September.

This was conveyed to the Natural Resources and Environment Ministry by the Meteorological Department.

Minister Datuk Seri Douglas Uggah Embas said the department had also identified peatland that was likely to catch fire.

"A few peat soil areas, especially in Selangor, Pahang, Miri in Sarawak, Negri Sembilan and Johor are combustible if the water level drops."

Uggah said at a meeting with the national haze committee and the Department of Environment on March 22, preparations were mapped out for monitoring open burning, reducing pollution from vehicles and building tube wells for fire-fighting or for raising the water levels in certain areas.

More watch towers would also be built to keep an eye on open burning activities.

"The ministry has requested DOE to keep a watchful eye and not to hesitate in issuing summonses to offenders under the Environmental Quality Act 1974."

He was speaking after launching a water quality research laboratory at the National Hydraulic Research Institute of Malaysia (Nahrim) headquarters in Seri Kembangan, near here yesterday.

He said the Asean ministerial steering committee on transboundary haze would meet in Brunei on May 8 to discuss an effective system to combat the haze situation.

Earlier at the launch, Uggah said rivers in Kuala Lumpur were categorised between stage three and four, which meant they needed intensive treatment and could only be used for irrigation purposes.

"My ministry is going all-out in fixing our rivers, which includes the River of Life project.

"We hope to restore the condition of the rivers to stage two, which requires conventional treatment only." Stage one means the rivers are in its natural condition and stage five denotes that they are in dire state.

At the function, Universiti Tun Hussein Onn assistant vice-chancellor Prof Dr Jailani Mohd Yunus signed a memorandum of understanding with Nahrim on the provision of expertise to the government in water management.

The MoU will provide a framework to develop expertise in civil and environmental engineering and carry out joint programmes in specific areas concerning water quality.

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Indonesia: Beetles run riot

Many in Indonesia get skin problems after contact with pests
Zakir Hussain Straits Times 30 Mar 12;

JAKARTA: Insects are an inescapable part of life in Indonesia, but a recent infestation of one species has got many people itching and irritated.

The latest scourge is tomcats, or rove beetles, which are being dislodged from their habitats near areas making way for development.

Many people have suffered acute dermatitis and swelling to the skin after coming into contact with the insects.

The rising number of such cases has led the Health Ministry to put public health centres across Java, the country's most heavily populated island, on alert this week. By yesterday, reports had emerged of tomcat attacks in Sumatra and Kalimantan.

Quarantine officials at ports and airports in high-risk areas have been ordered to carry out fumigation to prevent an outbreak, Professor Tjandra Yoga Aditama, the ministry's director-general for disease control and environmental health, said on Monday.

But he added that there was no need for people to panic, as the insects were not lethal.

The black-and-orange beetles, often no longer than 10mm, got their name because their slim bodies and curved rears resemble the F-14 Tomcat fighter jets once used by the United States Navy.

But unlike the aircraft that have since been retired from service, the beetles are still roving. An infestation was first reported in the middle of this month at a housing complex in Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city.

Last week, more than 160 people in the city were reported to have sought treatment after falling prey. More cases were reported in nearby towns.

Soon, inflammations were reported in Yogyakarta and Bali. Local newspapers and TV stations devoted column inches and airtime to the threat as cases were reported elsewhere as well.

The ensuing alarm led officials to step in to call for calm, with Prof Tjandra explaining that investigations into the initial outbreak showed that patients had recovered within a week.

'We suggest people protect themselves by using insect spray,' he added.

Schools have begun teaching students how to identify and react to the tomcats.

Senior presidential staff Heru Lelono told the media there was nothing to worry about, although he acknowledged the initial itching could be bothersome.

He told of how his face had reddened after a visit to a rice field in Bali several months ago, but he recovered fully within a week after getting an injection and medication.

Entomologist Aunu Rauf of the Bogor Agricultural University told The Straits Times: 'Tomcats do not bite and do not sting.'

But most people mistakenly react to a beetle landing on their skin by crushing it, he noted. This puts them in contact with a potent toxin called pederin in the insect's torso that causes the skin to redden and blister.

'Do not ever hold it, or kill the insect. Banish it carefully by blowing or with a piece of paper,' he cautioned.

Similar attacks have taken place in China, Iran, Iraq, Sri Lanka and Malaysia over the past decade. Lesser outbreaks have also been seen in East Java.

Prof Rauf attributed the current outbreak to a number of factors: The harvest season, rising number of pests, and housing projects near padi fields and swampland make it more conducive for tomcats to breed and get closer to people.

But he advised against exterminating the creatures, as they perform an invaluable role in curbing pests that feed on rice and other crops.

Veterinary parasitology researcher Mohammad Yunus of Surabaya's Airlangga University told Tempo magazine that the usual habitats of the tomcats, where the infestation first broke out in the city, had been destroyed to build an access road.

'They had to adapt once their living environment changed,' he said.

The fear is that as more fields give way to houses, such outbreaks will recur, unless people adapt in the way they deal with tomcats. But for now, the scientists expect the tomcat population to shrink soon as the dry season sets in.

Background story

The tomcat

The insect: Tomcat or rove beetle (paederus fuscipes)

What it looks like to some people: F-14 Tomcat fighter jet

What it does: It produces pederin, a toxic fluid that causes reddening and irritation when it comes in contact with human skin

Where it is usually found: Padi fields and swampy areas

How to handle it: Do not hold with bare hands or kill it. Carefully blow the insect away or use a piece of paper to do so. But if a beetle gets crushed and pederin gets on your skin, rinse the area immediately with soapy water several times. Also, wash clothes or sheets that come into contact with tomcat secretions. Symptoms generally appear 24 hours later.

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Studies show how pesticides make bees lose their way

Kate Kelland Reuters Yahoo News 29 Mar 12;

LONDON (Reuters) - Scientists have discovered ways in which even low doses of widely used pesticides can harm bumblebees and honeybees, interfering with their homing abilities and making them lose their way.

In two studies published in the journal Science on Thursday, British and French researchers looked at bees and neonicotinoid insecticides - a class introduced in the 1990s now among the most commonly used crop pesticides in the world.

In recent years, bee populations have been dropping rapidly, partly due to a phenomenon known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Scientists also fear pesticides are destroying bee populations, but it is not clear how they are causing damage.

Dave Goulson of Stirling University in Scotland, who led the British study, said some bumblebee species have declined hugely.

"In North America, several bumblebee species which used to be common have more or less disappeared from the entire continent," while in Britain, three species have become extinct, he said in a statement.

The threat to bee populations also extends to Asia, South America and the Middle East, experts say.

Bees are important pollinators of flowering plants, including many fruit and vegetable crops. A 2011 United Nations report estimated that bees and other pollinators such as butterflies, beetles or birds do work worth 153 billion euros ($203 billion) a year to the human economy.

In the first of the Science studies, a University of Stirling team exposed developing colonies of bumblebees to low levels of a neonicotinoid called imidacloprid, and then placed the colonies in an enclosed field site where the bees could fly around collecting pollen under natural conditions for six weeks.

At the beginning and end of the experiment, the researchers weighed each of the bumblebee nests - which included the bees, wax, honey, bee grubs and pollen - to see how much the colony had grown.

Compared to control colonies not exposed to imidacloprid, the researchers found the treated colonies gained less weight, suggesting less food was coming in.

The treated colonies were on average eight to 12 percent smaller than the control colonies at the end of the experiment, and also produced about 85 percent fewer queens - a finding that is key because queens produce the next generation of bees.

In the separate study, a team led by Mickael Henry of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) in Avignon tagged free-ranging honeybees with tiny radio-frequency identification microchips glued to each bee's back. This allowed them to track the bees as they came and went from hives.

The researchers gave some of the bees a low dose of the neonicotinoid pesticide thiamethoxam which they knew would not kill them and compared them to a control group of bees that was not exposed to the pesticide.

The treated bees were about two to three times more likely to die while away from their nests, and the researchers said this was probably because the pesticide interfered with the bees' homing systems, so they couldn't find their way home.

Henry said the findings raised important issues about pesticide authorization procedures.

"So far, they (the procedures) mostly require manufacturers to ensure that doses encountered on the field do not kill bees, but they basically ignore the consequences of doses that do not kill them but may cause behavioral difficulties," he said in a statement.

($1 = 0.7525 euros)

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Karolina Tagaris)

Pesticides hit queen bee numbers
Richard Black BBC News 29 Mar 12;

Some of the world's most commonly used pesticides are killing bees by damaging their ability to navigate and reducing numbers of queens, research suggests.

Scientific groups in the UK and France studied the effects of neonicotinoids, which are used in more than 100 nations on farm crops and in gardens.

The UK team found the pesticides caused an 85% drop in queen production.

Writing in the journal Science, the groups note that bee declines in many countries are reducing crop yields.

In the UK alone, pollination is calculated to be worth about £430m to the national economy.

And the US is among countries where a succession of local populations has crashed, a syndrome known as Colony Collapse Disorder.

Many causes have been suggested, including diseases, parasites, reduction in the range of flowers growing wild in the countryside, pesticides, or a combination of them all.

The neonicotinoids investigated in the two Science papers are used on crops such as cereals, oilseed rape and sunflowers.

Often the chemical is applied to seeds before planting. As the plant grows, the pesticide is contained in every part of it, deterring insect pests such as aphids.

But it also enters the pollen and nectar, which is how it can affect bees.

Dave Goulson from the UK's University of Stirling and colleagues studied the impact of the neonicotinoid imidacloprid on bumblebees.

They let bees from some colonies feed on pollen and sugar water containing levels of imidacloprid typically found in the wild, while others received a natural diet.

Then they placed the colonies out in the field.
'Severely compromised'

After six weeks, colonies exposed to the pesticide were lighter than the others, suggesting that workers had brought back less food to the hive.

But the most dramatic effect was on queen production. The naturally-fed hives produced around 14 queens each - those exposed to the pesticide, just two.

"I wouldn't say this proves neonicotinoids are the sole cause of the problems bees face," said Dr Goulson, "but it does suggest they're likely to be one of the causes, and possibly a significant one.

"The use of these pesticides is so widespread that most bee colonies in areas of arable farming are likely to be exposed to them, so there is potential for them to be playing a significant role in suppression of bee populations on a pretty staggering scale."

The French research group investigated the impact of a different neonicotinoid, thiamethoxam, on the number of bees able to make it back to the colony after release.

Using tiny tags attached to the bees' backs, they showed that significantly fewer insects came back if they had previously been exposed to levels of thiamethoxam that they might encounter on farms.

Calculations showed the impairment was bad enough that the capacity of colonies survive could be severely compromised.

"What we found is that actually if colonies are exposed to pesticides, the population might decline to a point that would put them at risk of collapse due to other stressors," said lead scientist Mickael Henry from the French National Insitute for Agricultural Research (Inra) in Avignon.

Dr Henry told BBC News that it was time for authorities to re-design the safety tests that pesticides have to pass.

"To date, the tests mostly require that the doses found in nature do not kill bees," he said.

"But those authorisation processes ignore possible consequences for the behaviour of bees, and we hope the people in charge will be more careful."
Worldwide business

Neonicotinoids are a multi-billion dollar business worldwide. Even though some countries have banned them partially, a complete global prohibition, as some environmental groups advocate, might be impossible.

May Berenbaum, head of entomology at the University of Illinois and one of the leading US experts on CCD, said the chemicals should be used more carefully.

"There is no question that neonicotinoids are being used recklessly, for want of a better word," she said.

"Fifty years of experience should have taught us that overuse of a single class of compounds is an inherently unsustainable practice, and that pre-treating seeds when pest problems might not even be present is collossally unwise.

"But neonicotinoids could be banned everywhere in the world, and honeybees would still have problems with pathogens, parasites, habitat degradation and overuse of just about every other class of chemical pesticide."

At EU level, the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee has asked the European Commission to increase research and produce an action plan to conserve bees.

"When the action plan is produced, we are ready to give member states a deadline to use or not use a specific pesticide - until then it is up to individual states," said Paolo de Castro MEP, the committee's chairman.

In the UK context, Dr Goulson added, it would certainly be worth re-considering neonicotinoid use in gardens.

"Personally I would ban insecticides completely in gardens," he said.

"There are very few serious insect pests in Britain as far as gardening's concerned, it's too cold; and if roses have a few aphids on, then tough, it's not a big deal."

His research team now plans to expand their study to other bee species, while Dr Henry's group will try to discover exactly how thiamethoxam does its damage.

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China To Flood Nature Reserve With Latest Yangtze Dam

Lucy Hornby PlanetArk 30 Mar 12;

China's Three Gorges Corp. on Thursday marked the beginning of construction for a dam that will flood the last free-flowing portion of the middle reaches of the Yangtze, the country's longest river.

The 30 billion yuan ($4.75 billion) Xiaonanhai dam is decried by environmentalists because it will flood a nature reserve designed to protect about 40 species of river fish.

Completion of the dam would turn the middle section of the Yangtze into a series of reservoirs, leaving "no space for fish", said environmentalist Ma Jun, who has been active for over two years in trying to prevent the dam.

"This is the last one, the last section in 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) along the Yangtze that was left for endangered or local fish species. This would be their last habitat," Ma told Reuters.

A ceremony was held to commence early-stage preparation, including building a road and laying power lines and water pipes, said Zhu Guangming, news department director at Three Gorges Corp.

"Construction of the dam itself will begin only after we get final approval," Zhu said, declining to give cost estimates.

"The government will give due consideration to all aspects including environment impact before issuing a permit."

The Xiaonanhai dam would be the last in a series of 12 dams along the Yangtze, the rest of which are all completed or under construction.

The series will stretch inland from the Three Gorges Dam, which has created an inland reservoir more than 600 km long that has allowed the city of Chongqing to develop into an inland port. When completed, Xiaonanhai dam is designed to produce 1.76 gigawatts, a fraction of the 22.50 GW that the Three Gorges Dam will produce when it reaches full capacity.


The Chongqing municipal government is currently embroiled in a power struggle after the ambitious party secretary, Bo Xilai, was sacked earlier this month. The mega-city's hard-charging police chief was also taken into custody by central authorities after spending a day in the nearest U.S. consulate.

Preliminary approval for the dam was issued by the National Development and Reform Commission, China's top planning agency, which also has the authority to issue final approval.

The boundaries of the nature reserve were earlier re-drawn to allow the construction of the even larger Xiangjiaba and Xiluodu dams.

According to NGO International Rivers, which opposes the construction of large hydro dams and has been critical of China's ambitious hydropower plans, the Xiangjiaba dam will be 6.4 GW and the Xiluodu dam 13.86 GW.

China wants to raise installed power capacity by 470 gigawatts (GW) to 1,437 GW by 2015 -- the largest in the world. At least 110 gigawatts of the new capacity will be from hydro power -- equivalent to five Three Gorges hydropower projects. Current hydropower capacity is 216 GW, also the world's largest.

The Three Gorges Dam is the world's biggest power project and was controversial well before it began construction in 1994.

Objections ranged from the destruction of rare species to the flooding of historic towns and displacement of millions of people, to concerns that it would quickly silt up and lose its efficiency in generating power.

It produces about 2 percent of China's power.

Subsequent audits of the Three Gorges project showed that many of the flooded communities were never properly resettled while the steep banks of the reservoir have been plagued by dangerous landslides as the water undermines the hillsides.

In January, China's environment ministry told hydropower developers they must "put ecology first" and pay strict attention to the impact of their projects on local rivers and communities.

(Editing by David Fogarty and Jonathan Thatcher)

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